Urban Core Density proposed for Devore Road in Alpharetta

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Another rezoning application has been filed with the City of Alpharetta for yet another high density urban mixed use development. This one calls for 200 apartments in a 6 story building, 80 condos in 5 story building, 64 townhouses or homes and more than 130,000 square feet of office, retail and commercial space on about 12 acres of land. That works out to nearly 30 residential units and more than 10,000 square feet of office, retail and commercial built per acre of land.

To help you understand how dense that is just picture a high school football field without the end zones. Then imagine a typical Trader Joe’s with 29 apartments, condos or townhomes stacked on top in that little space.

Every property owner in Alpharetta has a constitutional right to apply for rezoning on their property and I will do my best to consider how such a dense urban core could ever be in the best interests of our community. But over the years I have consistently stated my belief that dense, urban development will absolutely destroy the very qualities that have made Alpharetta the greatest place in Georgia to raise a family and do business so it is hard to imagine hearing any justification that I haven’t already heard a thousand times.

For the time being though, I will just shake my head in disappointment that prior decisions by our mayor and council have lead property owners and developers to believe this type of urban core density is appropriate for such a site in Alpharetta.

You can find the application and supporting documents on the city website here.

 

A decision of this magnitude deserves better

In an earlier post I wrote about my experience at the state capital last week. For more background you should also read this article about the hearing at GeorgiaPol.com.

As I testified at the senate hearing Senator Beach commented, “We can disagree without being disagreeable” and I couldn’t agree more. That is why some of the comments made by him and others supporting his 50% MARTA tax increase are so troublesome.

That doesn’t make sense to Beach. MARTA’s opponents, he said, are desperate for solutions. “Some of the politicians are saying, well, nobody is going to use it, and then in the next sentence they’re saying it’s going to create so much congestion coming into it. Well, you can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to have all this congestion, you’re going to have ridership. Just tell me one or the other.”

“The politicians are scared to death” of MARTA expansion, Beach said in an interview earlier this week.

What a perfect example of heavy rail supporters insulting their opponents and misleading the public without addressing the facts laid out by their opposition. Senator Beach’s assertion that politicians say, “nobody is going to use it” is just false hyperbole.

I have never heard it said by any opponent of heavy rail. However I have repeatedly pointed out that the U.S. Census shows only 2% of Fulton County residents ride heavy rail to work.

Yet while Senator Beach’s assertion that politicians say “nobody” is going to ride MARTA is false, his assertion that some say it’s going to cause more congestion is true and supported by facts.

Only 5% of the people who live in the zip code surrounding the North Springs MARTA station in Sandy Springs use heavy rail to get to work.

Commute chart Sandy Springs

And since only 846 people who live within walking distance of the station take trains to work MARTA had to build enormous parking garages. Why? Because most of the people who ride the trains have to drive cars to the station.

That is why rush hour traffic around North Springs is so bad the state of Georgia is spending a billion dollars trying to fix the problem while Sandy Springs is considering building monorails and the Perimeter CID is designing ways to expand surface streets to accommodate more cars, buses and trolleys at taxpayer expense.

So when Mr. Beach demands to know whether it is “one or the other” the response is “the other” because no politician says nobody will ride MARTA trains. Instead informed politicians say that while a small group of people around train stations will ride them the overwhelming majority of riders are forced to drive cars to the station making traffic worse.

Which means a bill dictating MARTA must expand using expensive, inflexible heavy rail lines along GA 400 will force commuters to crowd surrounding streets exacerbating congestion. The only public transportation that can effectively address existing congestion issues while improving economic development opportunities is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

The people of North Fulton are tired of congestion on the arterial roads and surface streets around GA 400. Of course other people have a vested interest in making sure transit forces people to visit the Georgia 400 corridor.

That’s why it was perfectly reasonable for Senator Beach to sponsor Senate Bill 313. Senator Beach is President of the North Fulton Community Improvement District (CID) a tax district created specifically to increase the property values of commercial properties along GA 400.

Understanding that, it makes sense for Senator Beach to pretend that North Fulton is doomed if taxpayers don’t spend billions of tax dollars to extend heavy rail into the CID there. No law forces political decisions to be decided on objective facts. So if Senator Beach supports a regressive tax increase which takes money from single moms in East Point to build train stations on three properties within the North Fulton CID it is perfectly fine. Even if it doesn’t seem fair, it’s good business for the CID.

Which is why it was also perfectly reasonable for Mr. Mark Toro to speak in favor of Senator Beach’s MARTA tax increase. Mr. Toro is a partner in North American Properties, the company now selling their Avalon mixed use development in Alpharetta. If Avalon is worth $500 million now it should be worth tens of millions more with a MARTA station. That’s just good business.

That’s the same reason Mr. Toro was a vocal supporter of the failed Tsplost tax that would have brought heavy rail to Atlantic Station in 2012. Now that North American has sold Atlantic Station and has Avalon on the market it is no surprise he supports a bill forcing Johns Creek retirees to pay for a MARTA station there.

And if Mr. Toro has to tell people who live in the City of Atlanta that objections to Senator Beach’s proposal are based on “racism” and a “bunch of old white guys”… so be it. If that’s what it takes to convince minority taxpayers in Atlanta they should pay for a 2.4 billion dollar amenity in the North Fulton CID, that’s just good business.

But the truth is that most elected officials in North Fulton support expanding some form of transit. Objections to Senator Beach’s 50% MARTA tax increase are not based on racism, irrational fears or muddled thinking but on sound reasoning and fiscal responsibility.

SB 313 diverts billions of dollars from efforts to build a sustainable transportation network that can support a vibrant region and directs them to an overpriced, inflexible mode of transportation that primarily benefits the commercial properties like Avalon within the North Fulton CID. To characterize principled, informed opposition to Senate Bill as irrational fear or uninformed reactionary politics is insulting.

A decision of this magnitude deserves better.

 

AJC Home Sales Report: No telling when we’ll hit bottom

The AJC began a realistic presentation of the Atlanta real estate market in a two part series they call the AJC Home Sales Report. You should read the whole thing here.

Some highlights include:

Our annual analysis tracks the sales of 43,000 houses in metro Atlanta in 2010, and the trend is still going in the same depressing direction.

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Analysis from this year’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Home Sales Report reveals that home values in metro Atlanta remain locked in a four-year slide as the pace of home sales sputtered. Five thousand fewer homes sold in nine metro counties last year than in 2009, accounting for a 9 percent drop. Those that did sell went for less than in 2009: Home prices fell 4.5 percent last year.

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Homes in the northern suburbs sold at a faster pace than other areas, though suburban home values continued to slide. Cherokee, Cobb, Forsyth and Gwinnett had increases in the number of existing homes sold. But prices decreased 17 percent to $126,500 in Cobb’s 30067; 11 percent to $135,250 around Woodstock in Cherokee’s 30188; and 15.8 percent to $80,000 around Norcross in Gwinnett’s 30071.

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The report, along with interviews with dozens of buyers, sellers, agents and experts, paints an uneven picture of the market. This much, however, is clear: Metro Atlanta’s housing market remains a big gamble.

This is a far cry from seven years ago when home sales began to increase 10 percent a year while median home prices grew about 5 percent a year. That ended in 2007, when home prices in the 20-county region went flat and home sales fell 22.3 percent.

I would love to tell friends and clients that the real estate has hit bottom and everything will be rosy from here on out but that simply isn’t the case. There are still too many foreclosure and short sale properties on the market with more in the pipeline for the market to stabilize.

Is it a good time to buy a home? Yes. If you need or want to buy a home and are in the financial position to do so this is a great time to buy and there are some incredible deals out there. But don’t let anyone tell you that the overall real estate market has hit bottom or is even close to doing so… yet.

Is Alpharetta a good place for a black family?

In looking over the GA Jim traffic yesterday I noticed that someone was directed to this blog after asking a search engine “is alpharetta a good place for black family”. The searcher was directed to my earlier post Racial diversity in Alpharetta? Duh! and I hope they found the answer they were looking for.

And if anyone else ever finds GA Jim looking for an answer to that same question let me give them a clear and unambiguous answer: YES.

Alpharetta has great schools, low crime and a fantastic quality of life. Any family that values those qualities will find Alpharetta is an outstanding place to call home… regardless of race. Welcome to Alpharetta!

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More bad news for Reynolds Plantation

The Reynolds Plantation developments in Georgia are beautiful reminders of the real estate boom and bust cycle we have experienced in our state. A Ritz Carlton, exclusive golf courses and million dollar lake lots all cover what was just farms and cow pastures a couple of decades ago. But now the developers are fighting bankruptcy, the homeowners are frustrated and the future of one of the state’s most exclusive areas is now in question.

So what better time for the federal government to step in and make things worse? The federal government is currently reviewing the maximum amount they will allow for standard mortgages issued in the U.S. and they are making changes on an arbitrary, county by county basis. As I was checking to make sure none of the changes would affect Fulton County, I noticed that the only county in Georgia negatively impacted is Greene County which includes Reynolds Plantation. In Greene County the federal guidelines will reduce standard mortgage limits from $662,500 to $515,200. That is a reduction of more than $140,000 and the difference will put even more downward pressure on property values in the area. Thanks feds!

The good news though, is that if you happen to have a few hundred thousand laying around you should be able to get a steal on a beautiful place.

Fulton County property taxes… the gouging has to stop

I received my 2011 Fulton County property tax assessment this weekend and the amount has gone down some from last year but it still an unrealistically high assessment. If the county is willing to pay me that much for my house I’ll gladly take them up on it.

Last year I calculated that my property tax assessment was 10-15% too high but decided against filing an appeal because of the hassle involved compared to the savings. This year despite the lower assessment the county is still trying to charge me 15-20% too much and my patience has run out. Average property values in Atlanta are back in the year 2000-2001 price range and paying taxes based on a 2005 assessment is getting old, especially when the state is planning to raise my sales taxes next year anyway. This year I am appealing.

If you are being gouged too I recommend you do the same. The deadline for appealing your assessment is 6/21/2011 if you wish to join me.